More than a year before the molasses spill in Beas River caused polluted water to be supplied to Rajasthan, the state had complained to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) about contaminated water in Sutlej River and in the waters of Rajasthan canals originating from Punjab.
Documents accessed by The Indian Express reveal that the Rajasthan government wrote to the CPCB and the Punjab government in June 2017 highlighting the fact that water being supplied to the state through canals originating from Punjab was contaminated.
Rajasthan government requested the CPCB to asses the extent of pollution by joint monitoring of the rivers and their tributaries as well as the canals originating from Punjab at Harike. The confluence of Beas and Sutlej rivers takes place near the Sutlej headworks from where the canals that feed water to Rajasthan originate.
As a result of this complaint received from Rajasthan, the CPCB and the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) jointly carried out the monitoring along with Rajasthan State Water Resources Department. Documents reveal that the joint monitoring was done in July 2017 in Sutlej river and other point sources discharging into Sutlej and canals, namely Rajasthan Feeder canal, Indira Gandhi canal and Ferozepur/Sirhind feeder canal coming from Punjab.
The investigation revealed that the water quality of river Sutlej deteriorates with respect to Dissolved Oxygen (DO) and Biochemical Oxygen demand (BOD) after confluence of River East Bein and Budha Nallah. It was also found that the coliform count was exceeding the prescribed water quality criteria at all the monitored locations.
In February 2018, the Rajasthan government once again wrote to the CPCB regarding contaminated water in canals of Rajasthan and requested that the monitoring of water should once again be done in April 2018 as had been done in July 2017. Thereafter a meeting of Punjab and Rajasthan Pollution Control Boards was conducted in CPCB to discuss the issues related to the initiatives taken by PPCB to control contaminated water in canals of Rajasthan originating from Punjab.
The CPCB also issued directions to Punjab and Himachal Pradesh for installation of real time water quality monitoring systems at all inter state borders on Sutlej river and such installed systems should be connected to CPCB as well as state pollution control board severs.
In a letter to the chairman, PPCB and Chief Secretary, Punjab, on May 5, 2017, 12 days before the Beas contamination by molasses spill, the CPCB stated, “It is becoming a need and necessity to regulate and minimise the interstate dispute on river water quality where downstream state is receiving the polluted water from upstream state”. The letter highlighted that efforts were needed to be made by the state to exercise self-monitoring and compliance on interstate points.
In the same letter, the CPCB also issued directions to Punjab, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh under Section 33 (A) of the Water (Pollution and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 to install real time water quality monitoring systems on Sutlej rover. It was also directed that all such monitoring systems should have necessary provisions to measure water quality parameters regarding dissolved oxygen, biochemical oxygen demand and chemical oxygen demand. It was also directed that bacteriological parameters for total and fecal colioform shall be monitored on monthly basis.
In a series of earlier reports, The Indian Express had brought out how the CPCB has been keeping a close tab on the situation arising from the spill of molasses into Beas River by Chadha Sugar Mills and Industries Pvt Ltd on May 17. The board had blamed the mill for having improper precautionary measures in place as a result of which the excess molasses stored in the mill spilled over into a drain which was connected to the river. The PPCB has now directed that a wall be built in the drain which will prevent any spillage of pollutants into the Beas River.